Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone, page 4
An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie Horrigan
© Shamanism, Spring/Summer 1997, Vol. 10, No. 1

What about divination?

Work in shamanism also involves divination. A person can journey for themselves or have somebody who's a shamanic practitioner journey for them to get an answer to a question. What's really interesting is when somebody who's a complete stranger—about whom the shaman knows nothing—asks for an answer to a question, and the shaman then journeys or uses other techniques and gets the exact information that's valid for that person's life. This can happen because these things are known by the spirits. The shaman doesn't need to know anything except the methods, and to have his or her own spirit helpers.

How can doctors and nurses use this knowledge?

Sometimes I informally call our foundation the "University of Shamanism." I bring that up because our primary purpose is to return shamanism to the planet by training people. Many of these people are doctors and other health professionals. It is they who must discover how to integrate what they are taught into their practices. We don't have a ready template for that. Within the next few years, we hope to have a large-scale conference of health practitioners who have studied with us, to exchange information about how they have used these methods in their practice.

I know the Foundation is conducting research regarding drumming and health. Can you talk about that?

Our research, thanks to a Canadian foundation, is investigating certain matters regarding shamanic journeying and drumming and health. My wife, Dr. Sandra Harner, is the director of the Shamanism and Health Project. Her research involves two major aspects, one of which is the effect of shamanic journeying and drumming on one measure of immune response and on emotions.

In connection with this work, she has gotten some hints that people with certain profiles of psychological descriptors respond much more effectively in terms of the immune response than others. This is a subject, obviously, of considerable interest. She has also found that there is a tremendous increase in the sense of well being as well as decreased mood disturbance and stress in people working with shamanic drumming and journeying. But to say more would be premature.

It's ironic that a system of healing that—other than using plants—is the oldest known system of healing in the world, should have no research going on in it at all, other than what we are able to do with our meager resources. I look forward to the day when the possibility of spiritual causality is not ruled out of research, so that science, in fact, can be completely scientific.

We also have what the medical profession would call "anecdotal" accounts. People often come to the shamans when everybody else has failed. We have cases in which, once people start getting shamanic treatments and laboratory tests are continued, the tests turn out negative, whereas they previously were positive. The assumption from the medical profession is usually that the previous diagnoses were incorrect, because there's been a reversal. That's fine with us. After all, it's virtually impossible, on a case-by-case basis, to prove causality. People wonder, How do you know this works? Well, you just practice it for your life and it develops a track record for you.

What are you working on now?

My primary interest right now is in miracles. I've devoted some years now to finding out what principles are involved to have miracles happen. I think we're making significant progress. Almost everything that anybody's ever read about in the shamanic literature or the miracle literature is something that we have some knowledge of how to do now. And this includes miracles of healing.

Starting next year, we will be moving forward on this project with some of our most advanced students. I'm not in a position to comfortably start sharing this information publicly—it's too early—but it does involve a real awareness of the spirits.

I might say something about spirits, because it's a strange word to people. What is a spirit? In 1961, when I was with the Conibo Indians in eastern Peru in the Amazon, I was training using ayahuasca with a shaman, and we were working with the various nature spirits every night. I worked with the anaconda spirit, the black panther spirit, the fresh-water dolphin spirit, various tree spirits, and so on. They would come, we would see them, and so on. Then one night I got introduced to the outboard-motor spirit. And then the radio spirit and the airplane spirit. I came to realize that anything that you see in complete darkness or with your eyes closed is technically a spirit. That makes it sound like it's just an image in the air, but shamans find out which spirits have power and which don't. They discover what spirits can help in what ways. It's very important to recognize that whatever you contact in nonordinary reality is technically a spirit. It's a spiritual reality.

Once a shaman contacts the spirits, what happens?

There's a crossover of the power from nonordinary reality to ordinary reality. The two realities are conceptually discrete, but the shaman is able to move the power of one over to the other. When this is done successfully, that's how healings occur and how we have what is called miracles.

Your interest in miracles was obviously spurred by your experiencing or witnessing miracles. Would you be willing to tell us a miracle story?

This is a very simple one that can be seen to this day, empirically, in ordinary reality. One of our students, Carol Herkimer, was in what we call a "spirit boat," along with other members of a basic class. The spirit boat is a technique used in aboriginal Australia, on the northwest coast of North America, and in the upper Amazon. A group of shamans journey together to the Lower or Upper world to go outside of time. They may be going for healing or knowledge. When a whole group of people, trained properly and in contact with spirits, journey together to help one person, it's very powerful.

We were using a dance studio in lower Manhattan on Canal Street called "The Kiva." Like any other dance studio, it had highly polished floors, so we always had to be careful not to scuff them. Carol was recovering from a terrible traffic accident and she couldn't sit on the cushions on the floor with the other people. She had to sit in a chair with bent tubular metal legs. So we went off on the journey, and when we came back (to ordinary reality), people shared what they had encountered. When Carol went on the journey, she went through a sea of fire in nonordinary reality. When she came back, the floor was smoking under her chair, and the bent aluminum tubular leg on one side had burned a channel into the floor, but she hadn't gotten burned. The people who owned the studio were quite upset, and to this day the burned channel is still there.

This example alone doesn't prove anything, but it's these kinds of coincidences that build up in your own practice. In no single case can you be sure what actually happened, but if you find a high correlation between treatments by people who are well known as healing shamans and recoveries—when other things have failed—then you begin to pay attention.

When you start shamanic journeying, if you're the kind of person the spirits feel compassion for and want to help, you're going to get lots of teachings you never asked for and never expected. Because once you go through those doors—whatever those doors are—the spirits will teach you according to your preparation, and your life will change. Even one journey may start changing your life.

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